Businesses await news on £400m wind farm

SHAUN LOWTHORPE East Anglian businesses are holding their breath to see if ministers will give the green light to a £400m offshore wind farm which would spark a regional jobs bonanza.

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

East Anglian businesses are holding their breath to see if ministers will give the green light to a £400m offshore wind farm which would spark a regional jobs bonanza.

The scheme, off the Essex coast at Thanet, would be five times the size the development of Scroby Sands, where 30 turbines operate just off the coast of Yarmouth.

And it would be a major boost for East Anglian green energy firms - with Lowestoft based SLP said to have a £60m order to help get the project installed by 2010.

Experts are predicting a boom in the offshore wind industry between now and 2008. And there were hopes that a scheme earmarked off the coast at Sheringham and Cromer would quickly follow the Essex announcement, which is expected to be made by the government imminently.

James Beal, managing director of Renewables East, said the signs of a deal going ahead were looking increasingly promising.

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“Not only are we talking about an £8bn industry around here, but we are talking about winning contracts from other parts of the world.”

The move comes as regional leaders are in Brussels trying to attract EU investment and business deals from major firms to fund investment in green technology.

While officials from the East of England Development Agency have held talks with European Investment Bank officials to see if firms would be eligible for loans on a longer 15-year basis.

That would give businesses more security to develop, while also stemming the tide of ideas being snapped up by overseas firms.

Meanwhile, the Brussels conference heard that greater powers could be given to planners and council chiefs to boost the number of homes heated using green energy.

EU Commission chiefs are set to unveil fresh proposals by the end of the year to encourage local government to do more to boost the numbers of homes heated using renewable energy such as solar power, wind turbines and wood fuelled boilers.

Samuele Furfari, a EU Commission director general for energy and transport, told a high level meeting of regional leaders in Brussels that he wanted to see a greater uptake of green technologies to help heat homes and communities.

And, appealing over the head of national governments, he said regional leaders and local authorities had a vital role to play.

Current EU rules state a proportion of power supplied to national grids should be from renewable energy, but the Commission proposals would shift the focus away from the big utility company suppliers and on to encouraging take up among consumers.

Plans have also been submitted to build 108 turbines off the North Norfolk coast at Sheringham Shoal, although Norfolk County Council's planning highways delegation committee objected to the scheme because of fears about potential damage to coastal views and the local fishing industry.

The Government will make the final decision on the project, which would generate enough power for 176,000 homes.